Thursday 21 November 2013

Movie Review: Broken City (2013)

An attempt to recreate the magic of Chinatown in modern day New York, Broken City serves up some tasty deviousness among the power elite, but the simplistic story of corruption sags under the weight of its own ambition.

New York City cop Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) is acquitted of murdering an accused rapist, but is nevertheless asked to resign from the police force by Mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe). Seven years later, the Mayor is running for re-election and facing a serious challenge from charismatic Councillor Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper). Hostetler hires Taggart, now a private investigator, to confirm that the Mayor's wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is having an affair. Meanwhile, Hostetler signs a high profile real estate deal for the City to sell a large social housing site to a private development company. The sale will save the City from a mountain of debt, but also places low-income families at risk.

Taggart's home life with girlfriend Natalie (Natalie Martinez) starts to fall apart when he can't handle her burgeoning career as an actress. But with help from his assistant Katy (Alona Tal), Taggart gathers evidence that Cathleen is indeed seeing a man called Paul Andrews (Kyle Chandler), who is closely connected to Valliant's campaign team. But there is lot more going on than a simple affair. Soon there are bodies in the street, serious allegations of corruption, and just when Taggart thinks that he has collected all the pieces of an ugly puzzle, his past comes back to haunt him.

The secret at the heart of Broken City is lame, a signature on a paper that must be a matter of public record, and that would never require any secretive skulking around to uncover. The Brian Tucker script also suffers from a tough to believe amount of violence unleashed by politicians in the immediate run-up to an election, the streets of New York suddenly turning into killing grounds as guns-for-hire do the dirty work for the corrupt men in suits.

These are unfortunate weaknesses at the film's core, because otherwise Broken City offers decent entertainment, delivered at a brisk pace by director Allen Hughes (working this time without his brother Albert). Stylishly filmed and benefiting from a strong cast, Broken City explores the familiar territory of corrupt land deals and a private investigator stumbling onto secrets much darker than what he was hired for. But the film also stays away from some tempting, often overused Chinatown derivatives. That Broken City avoids the topics of incest, rape and old men manipulating events from distant mansions is a welcome sign of self-control.

Russell Crowe and Mark Wahlberg are always engaging, and here they do not disappoint, although equally they do not set the screen on fire. Wahlberg, who also co-produced, has the larger role, and gives Taggart the sad energy of a man knocked out of the orbit of his natural life despite ridding the City of an acknowledged if unconvicted menace. Crowe is edgier and flashier, but also more predictable, his take on Mayor Nicholas Hostetler filled with the smugness of politicians who believe that laws apply only to other people. Catherine Zeta-Jones gets third billing, but relatively very few minutes on the screen.

Broken City promises more than the story can deliver, and although the film is not broken, it is regrettably bent a bit.

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